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Psychrophilic lifestyles: mechanisms of adaptation and biotechnological tools


Cold-adapted microorganisms inhabiting permanently low-temperature environments were initially just a biological curiosity but have emerged as rich sources of numerous valuable tools for application in a broad spectrum of innovative technologies. To overcome the multiple challenges inherent to life in their cold habitats, these microorganisms have developed a diverse array of highly sophisticated synergistic adaptations at all levels within their cells: from cell envelope and enzyme adaptation, to cryoprotectant and chaperone production, and novel metabolic capabilities. Basic research has provided valuable insights into how these microorganisms can thrive in their challenging habitat conditions and into the mechanisms of action of the various adaptive features employed, and such insights have served as a foundation for the knowledge-based development of numerous novel biotechnological tools. In this review, we describe the current knowledge of the adaptation strategies of cold-adapted microorganisms and the biotechnological perspectives and commercial tools emerging from this knowledge. Adaptive features and, where possible, applications, in relation to membrane fatty acids, membrane pigments, the cell wall peptidoglycan layer, the lipopolysaccharide component of the outer cell membrane, compatible solutes, antifreeze and ice-nucleating proteins, extracellular polymeric substances, biosurfactants, chaperones, storage materials such as polyhydroxyalkanoates and cyanophycins and metabolic adjustments are presented and discussed.

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All the technical staff at the CBMA are thanked for their skilful technical assistance. The Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), the European Social Fund (ESF), the Programa Operacional Potencial Humano (POPH) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) are thanked for funding. 


T.C. is supported by the FCT, the ESF, POPH, and the Investigador FCT Programme (IF/01635/2014). Funding by the ERDF is through project EcoAgriFood (NORTE-01-0145-FEDER-000009) via the North Portugal Regional Operational Programme (NORTE 2020) under the PORTUGAL 2020 Partnership Agreement. FCT funding was through the project EngXyl (EXPL/BBB-BIO/1772/2013-FCOMP-01-0124-FEDER-041595) and the strategic programme UID/BIA/04050/2019 at the CBMA.

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Correspondence to Tony Collins.

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Collins, T., Margesin, R. Psychrophilic lifestyles: mechanisms of adaptation and biotechnological tools. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 103, 2857–2871 (2019).

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  • Psychrophiles
  • Cell envelope
  • Cryoprotection
  • Enzymes
  • Chaperones
  • Metabolic adjustments